Millar shows staying power

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Bedard closes first half strong, reaching 10 wins for first time

July 10, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Cleveland -- Kevin Millar took a decidedly nontraditional path to the major leagues.

He went undrafted as a self-described "no tools" prospect out of high school or college and had to begin his career with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. He said the Saints only kept him because under league rules, they had to carry three players with no professional experience.

But Millar helped them win a league title, and the Florida Marlins saw enough that they purchased him as part of a three-man package for the 1994 season. He didn't make the big leagues for good until he was almost 28, but Millar played his 1,000th game Thursday and has played more than any undrafted player who started in an independent league during baseball's draft era (he passed former shortstop and Saints teammate Rey Ordonez, who played 973).

"I never gave up, man. I always believed it," he said. "Nobody else did. ... It wasn't an easy way to get here."

Millar said that from high school on, people told him to improve his grades or find another interest because he'd never make it. But he idolized his uncle, major league outfielder Wayne Nordhagen, and had an incredible tunnel vision about playing pro baseball.

"I didn't even have that good a year there," he said of his independent league experience. "It's just the grit. I never gave up. It's easy to say you're not going to make it to the big leagues. You're probably not going to make it to the big leagues if you're not drafted. I never gave up, I never believed all the negative stuff."

Millar gave the scouting report on himself.

"I couldn't run. I can't throw, I can't field, I didn't have great power," he said. "I mean, you don't have any of the tools. No tools. I don't have a tool box, but you know, that's what makes this game special. You can't teach instincts. You can't teach what's inside of a person. You can't teach the love inside of a person. I've passed so many guys 10,000 times better than I was in the minor leagues. ... I just kept creeping because I loved it more. I still love it more."

Manager Sam Perlozzo followed a similar path to the big leagues and said he enjoys players like Millar.

"There's a whole lot to be said about heart in the game," he said. "That's the beauty of baseball."

Millar has visited with the Saints as often as possible. He tells them not to stop playing because they never know who might be watching from the stands.

"I think I can give those guys some hope," he said. "If you didn't have these stories, why are those guys playing still? You're making $900 a month to ride a bus, but they all still have the light, they see that light at the end of the tunnel. And if there wasn't a story like mine ... then it doesn't give a lot of guys hope."

Streaking Bedard

With a fourth straight superb start Saturday, Erik Bedard won his 10th game of the season. That might not seem remarkable for a pitcher of his abilities, but Bedard had never won 10 in a season at any level.

"Best half I've ever had," Bedard said. "I've never won 10 games in my life."

The left-hander didn't have optimal command of his fastball Saturday but was able to rely on his curveball and changeup to hold a potent Indians lineup to one run. He credited improved off-speed stuff for his recent success.

"Yeah, it makes a difference," he said. "Obviously, every time out there, you're not going to be 100 percent, you're not going to be able to throw strikes every time. So I just try to count on my other pitches when my fastball's not there."

Perlozzo said he's more confident in Bedard.

"For once in my life or once in his, I don't think you're looking at a possible collapse," he said. "You always feel like he's going to give you a good game whether he wins it or not."

Now, Bedard will try to finish a full season in the big leagues for the first time.

"He needs to put together the second half so he can say he went and pitched a full season of pretty good baseball," Perlozzo said. "That'll be the telling thing about where his career's going to go, how good he's going to be."

Rogers optioned

The Orioles optioned infielder Ed Rogers to Triple-A Ottawa yesterday to make room for Chris Gomez, who will return from a broken hand when the season resumes Thursday. childs.walker@baltsun.com

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